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Operation Source
Part of World War II
Date20–22 September 1943
LocationAltafjord, Norway
Result Allied success
 United Kingdom
 Australia [1]
 Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Henty Henty-Creer Hans Meyer
6 midget submarines,
6 conventional submarines
2 battleships, 1 heavy cruiser
Casualties and losses
9 killed, 6 prisoner 1 battleship damaged

Operation Source was a series of attacks to neutralise the heavy German warships – Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and Lützow – based in northern Norway, using X-class midget submarines.

The attacks took place in September 1943 and succeeded in keeping the Tirpitz out of action for at least six months.

The operation was later portrayed in the 1955 war film, Above Us the Waves, featuring John Mills, which was based on both Operation Source, and the earlier Chariot human torpedo attacks on the Tirpitz.

The operational commander was an Australian serving in the Royal Navy, Lieutenant Henty Henty-Creer, who had earlier worked as a cinematographer on successful feature films including 49th Parallel (1941).[2]

Intelligence contributing to the attack on Tirpitz was collected and sent to the RN by the Norwegian resistance, especially brothers Torbjørn Johansen and Einar Johansen.

The attack

Six X-craft were used. HMS X5, X6 and X7 were allocated the battleship Tirpitz, in Kåfjord. HMS X9 and X10 were to attack the battleship Scharnhorst, also in Kåfjord. HMS X8 was to attack the aged pocket battleship Lützow in Langfjord.

The craft were towed to the area by conventional submarines (HMS Truculent (X6)[3] Syrtis (X9),[4] Sea Nymph (X8),[5] Thrasher (X5),[6] Stubborn (X7),[7] and Sceptre (X10)[8]) and manned by passage crews on the way. Close to the target, the operation crews would take over. X9, probably trimmed heavily by the bow in the heavy sea for the tow, was lost with all hands on the passage when her tow parted and she suffered an abrupt plunge due to her bow-down trim.[9] X8 (passage crew commanded by Lt. Jack Smart) developed serious leaks in her side-mounted demolition charges, which had to be jettisoned; these exploded, leaving her so damaged she had to be scuttled.[10] The remaining X-craft began their run in on 20 September and the attacks took place on 22 September 1943.

Scharnhorst was engaged in exercises at the time, and hence was not at her normal mooring, X10's attack was abandoned, although this was due to mechanical and navigation problems, and the submarine returned to rendezvous with her 'tug' submarine and was taken back to Scotland.

X5, Henty-Creer's flag vessel, disappeared with her crew during Source. She is believed to have been sunk by a direct hit from one of Tirpitz's four-inch guns before the crew had a chance to place her charges. In 2004, a saddle charge identical to those used by the X-class was found on the bottom of Kåfjord, a short distance from the site of the attack. Although it has not been positively identified, it is believed to be from the X5. In June 2011 this device was detonated by the Royal Norwegian Navy.[11]

X6 and X7 managed to drop their charges underneath Tirpitz, but were unable to make good their escape as they were observed and attacked. Both craft were abandoned and six crew survived to be captured. Tirpitz was heavily damaged. While not in danger of sinking, she took on over 1,400 tons[12] of water and suffered significant mechanical damage, including shock to the roller bearings in "D" turret aft.[13] Tirpitz could not leave her anchorage until April 1944. For this action, the commanders of the craft, Lieutenant Donald Cameron (X6) and Lieutenant Basil Place (X7), were awarded the Victoria Cross, whilst Robert Aitken, Richard Haddon Kendall, and John Thornton Lorimer received the Distinguished Service Order and Edmund Goddard the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.[14] The commander of the X8, John Elliott Smart was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).[15]

X-craft and crews

See also

  • Submarine X-1


  1. The Allied commander, Henty Henty-Creer was an Australian commissioned in the RNVR and five members of the Royal Australian Navy were among the crew of the British midget submarines involved. Worledge, Ray. 2012 Australians in Midget Submarines. (Access date: 24 March 2012.)
  2. IMDB, Henty Henty-Creer (Access date: 24 March 2012.)
  3. Grove, Eric. Sea Battles in Close-up: World War 2, Volume 2 (Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allan, 1993), pp.124.
  4. Grove, p.124.
  5. Grove, p.127.
  6. Grove, pp.124 & 127.
  7. Grove, p.127.
  8. Grove, p.127.
  9. Grove, p.127.
  10. Grove, p.127.
  11. Her sprenges bomba som skulle senke «Tirpitz»
  12. Grove, p.131.
  13. Grove, p.131.
  14. "No. 36390". 10 September 1943. 
  15. "No. 36295". 17 December 1943. 
  16. Grove, Eric. Sea Battles in Close-up: World War 2, Volume 2 (Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allan, 1993), pp.124 & 128.
  17. Grove, p.127.
  18. Grove, p.124.
  19. Grove, p.124.
  20. Grove, p.127.
  21. Grove, p.127.
  22. Grove, p.127.
  23. Grove, pp.127 & 128.
  24. Grove, p.127.
  25. (Magennis later earned a VC in the midget submarine attack on Takao. Grove, p.127.
  26. Grove, p.127.
  27. Grove, p.127.
  28. Grove, p.128.
  29. Grove, p.127.

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